The King of Crenshaw

How the murder of rapper/entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle has affected many — and possibly represents a breaking point.

Nipsey Hussle. (photo credit: Getty Images)

“Look, young rich n***a shit, pops was an immigrant
Lifestyle ill legit, but know I own businesses
Started out the trunk, ended up at the dealership
All gold Rollie, black face no blemishes”

- “Black Face”, Nipsey Hussle w/Childish Gambino

It’s 12:20 A.M. A little more than twenty-four hours after I, like many others around the globe got the word of the senseless murder of Nipsey Hussle outside of his Marathon Clothing store out in the ‘hood he loved, Crenshaw in
south Los Angeles, California. I’m out in my neighborhood with my nephew and Tone, one of the O.G.’s from around the way. We’re pulling up in his car
alongside one of the few bodegas on the main drag of Linden Boulevard that’s
open 24/7. The streets are mostly quiet. They usually are in this part of Queens, it’s what I grew up with and still experience being out here. The only
things punctuating the chilly night air is the perfume of jerk chicken being cooked at a bar and lounge across the street along with smoke from a Newport. We’re here ’cause Tone wants to cop some more beer and chop it up. There’s a dude ahead of us, hood of his sweater propped up on his head as he waits for the dude in the store. A car parked out front waits for him, complete with a white pit bull in the backseat looking at us out of the window. “Victory Lap”, the first track off of his Grammy-nominated album of the same name is bumping from that car. The cat at the window eyes us as we walk up. We give the standard head nod and give him some dap as he sees us vibing to the track. “Damn shame aint it?” he says.

That has been running through the minds of many since Sunday evening. A
damn shame. Hussle died in his ‘hood, in front of the business he created on West Slauson Avenue through a decade’s worth of grit, drive & determination. I still can’t get the last photo of him that someone put on Twitter out of my mind — him kneeling to take a photo with a young child, right in the parking lot. According to reports this morning, he basically rushed over to his store with a friend who just came home fresh off of a twenty-year stint in prison so
he could get some new clothes and a fresh cut before seeing the rest of his family. He did so without letting his security detail know, a detail that got beefed up for a video shoot that he did with John Legend just that past Thursday. Hussle’s last Twitter message speaks to whatever he heard through the grapevine, and looms ominous as the days go on.

Ultimately, there are two facts here that led to this tragedy. The first? That it was someone from the ‘hood that killed Nipsey. Eric Holder, a cat who rolled with a set and a fledgling rapper is now in custody after being arrested as the
person who apparently shot Hussle and the two other men — allegedly kicking him in the head after shooting Hussle six times after an argument. The second
fact? That there is no conspiracy present except one — the need to have one to
avoid the hard truths that pop up after tragedies like this.

To the first point — I’m in my fourth decade of life on this blue marble. For a big chunk of that time, I’ve been a fan of rap music and a devotee of hip-hop culture on a whole. One of the unfortunate constants with both is that the specter of violence that hovers around them and takes away the best and the
brightest and even the up and coming. Scott La Rock. Biggie. Tupac. Jam Master Jay. Those are just a few of the names. That air of violence lies in the fact that success and prosperity in the rap game has led to subsequent envy & the beefs that stem from it as an aspect of the toxic masculinity that exists as an unhealthy byproduct of rap. MC’s and crews battling to be the best, to declare themselves the best can get out of hand when there’s no line between the music and the ones making it. Rivalries can get heated. If there’s one thing to this recent situation that I’m glad for, is that the LAPD is taking pains to not
paint this as anything gang-related even though Holder and Nipsey had affiliations with sets (Nipsey with the Rollin 60’s Crips as reports have it). With that being said, it can’t be discounted that animosity towards those that
have “made it” or are making it festers and creates a “crabs in a barrel” mentality among a few. It gets more serious and sinister than just labeling those in that mentality as “haters”. Because time and time again, they let that dislike rise up enough to kill. To prove that this person isn’t so big after all. That’s a common sentiment whether cats want to admit it or not — “anyone can get got.” It’s an animosity that has been stirred up in the past thanks to the machinations of corporate-backed labels. There’s also the thing of being in the position of benefactor to so many. It’s a grind to do so. And unfortunately there are those who benefit from it but feel a way about it. I always think about the film “Paid In Full” where Mitch gets set up by his uncle who helped
kidnap his own nephew because he was resentful that Mitch wouldn’t give him some cash and kicked him out of the apartment. Resentment can run far
and deep in the streets and be born with no rhyme or reason. That might’ve been what prompted Holder to kill Nipsey.

The second point? The need for some grand conspiracy to be at fault so we don’t look hard enough at the other factors. There’s two things I’ve heard in the past day or two that instantly makes me shut down. One is that Nipsey
was killed because he was working on producing a documentary featuring the Honduras-based herbal healer Dr. Sebi and his work. The entertainer Nick Cannon went on Instagram to proclaim that he’d carry on his work, presumably including this project. There’s always been an air of mystery around Sebi aka Alfredo Bowman since the late 1980’s when his claims of being able to rid people of HIV and other serious diseases led to legal trouble. This got rekindled with the death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in Honduras in 2002 on a visit to the doctor, who she credited as helping her with his cleanses. The other thing is the same old trope of “the Jews” not wanting Black people to be too powerful. Sidewalk anti-Semitic theories still run
rampant, a fall back that fits into any scenario for easy agreement. Both of these get their fuel because there’s been so much that has gone against those
in the Black community and they provide some kind of oasis against the realities that embedded systemic racism has inflicted on it in various ways. These are crutches. Faulty ones. And these reactions don’t help us at all.

Hearing them in the wake of Nipsey Hussle’s death though, makes them
hollow. And I believe others are seeing that. These kinds of tangents don’t
serve us well, not when we are in need of critical thinking and application more than ever in a time where politicians are poised to literally re-write history in this nation when it comes to us. This kind of critical thinking is something Hussle was beloved for, with his #Proud2Pay movement that took place in 2013 when he sold his Crenshaw mixtape for $100. Many thought it was insane to do in a time where massive amounts of music were being streamed for pennies and hosted for free on websites like DatPiff, but he successfully laid out a blueprint for rappers to recoup more money without falling prey to the machinations of labels that chop away pieces of an artist’s earnings. He took that knowledge and the capital he gained and invested in his community. There’s a laundry list of how he’s done so from buying the strip mall on West Slauson to creating Vector 90, a cultural hub and incubator for technology initiatives including STEAM. He didn’t get there without stumbles — one of his flawed moments includes his comments that were hurtful and derogatory to the Black LGBTQ community. And if he lived, perhaps he could’ve evolved as Jay-Z has, someone who went from sprinkling “no homo” in his comments to writing a track celebrating his mother, who’s a lesbian. You could see the evolution taking place, where he touched on the same toxic masculinity that still persists in the ‘hood among brothers. Honoring what Nipsey was about means that has to get left behind, including the knee-jerk reactions of these theories that obscure the fact that we’ve got to continue to decolonize our spirits and strip away the negativity bequeathed to us through the pressures of systemic racism. I see the discussions online happening, and Black men and women picking these things apart. Seeing them take the line of dispelling the need to get into conspiracies as a reaction makes me think we might just be turning that corner. Slowly but surely.

I believe that’s part of the true legacy left behind by Nipsey is best summed up in the second verse of “Loaded Bases” from his last album. Hussle himself spoke on the inspiration behind that in an NPR article that’s a solid read. Even in the midst of drama and chaos, one should always strive to channel their inner spirit to rise above things to really be successful in an innovative way & inspire others to do the same. As hurtful as it is to know that someone from his own ‘hood took him out, that hurt shouldn’t make us more reluctant to give back and be a positive force as he did. Hell, if he could inspire an LAPD official to quote his lyrics to the press, you know he put in that work.

The King of Crenshaw is gone. Long live the king. Long Live Nipsey.

Christopher A. Smith

Written by

Freelance writer. Author of 3 books of poetry. Raconteur. Queens is the county, Jamaica is the place.

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